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How To: Understanding - and Leveraging - Your Tech Team


How to reach 'em.

With different backgrounds, approaches to business and equally porky superiority complexes, it may seem impossible to get exactly what you want from a team of web developers and designers.

But with web 2.0 technologies a growing priority among businesses, interactive marketers must find a way to work well with tech — and more importantly, coax them into implementing what they need.

Here are tips for bridging the gap. They will prove still more useful if your company includes remote employees in several different locations and time zones.

1. Understand developer and designer psychology.

Web designers and developers like to solve problems creatively, apply their skills and feel proud of their work. Help them help you.

Web developers generally have engineering backgrounds. They prefer hard facts and straightforward language to the hyperbole they perceive is most often used among marketers.

  • Be precise when requesting services. Bullet tasks.
  • Give explicit bug reports. "I clicked on the link and it just didn't work" is not actionable feedback. Spell out problems you see. When dealing with website errors, take a screenshot of the page and URL, and clearly explain how you got there.

    Specificity leaves less room for interpretation. Developers won't take the time to try decoding a vague request.

Web designers often hail from artistic backgrounds, but the messy reality of web design also makes them fans of clear communication.

  • Be consistent. Unlike developers, a designer can be receptive to creative, sometimes vague project ideas. But if s/he receives conflicting information from you, another project manager or the developer team, you are courting trouble.
  • As often as possible, provide examples of how you want things to look. Share websites or apps you like, and point out why you like them.
  • Ask for opinions. While listening to you express an idea, the designer may have a better way to present what you want. S/he may not share them unless you ask.

2. Respect tech expertise.

You could ruffle feathers by assuming a simple front-end change will take a mere "five minutes" of developer time. Likewise if you make uninformed suggestions about how you think a web campaign should be coded from the back-end. Even simple design tasks may have repercussions a designer may see, but you may not.

Focus on your business goals. Their job is to help bring you from point A to point B; try not to sweat the in-between.

3. Prioritize realistically.

Nothing is more infuriating to a tech team than multiple tasks that are all "first priority."

Demonstrating an ability to prioritize requests, and not overload tech with ideas thought up the night before, will help maintain sanity and encourage forward movement.

One way to determine the value of requests is to list ideas and write out why they are important. What do you need to provide the bare minimum to users? Build from there; decide what tasks can wait and what will add value in the near future. See this Boxes and Arrows primer to learn more.

4. Learn about the technology you work with.

Understanding the 'net from a more technical perspective will give you a better sense of the constraints and possibilities of implementing ideas. It will also improve your relationship with the tech folk.

5. Understand the "zone."

To work best, developers need to be in a focused state of mind often called "the zone." This is one reason why some like dark rooms and plenty of space.

In the zone, they load variables up in their minds, determine algorithms for best providing the data you need, or revisit work done by other developers (this is what they mean when they use the term "legacy").

The process is mostly mental and can be shattered in an instant. Avoid interruptions by phone or instant messaging; schedule meetings with them instead. Peopleware urges companies to give developers adequate "focus" space.

Designers require similar prep periods. You may find them doodling or exploring other site and animation ideas. Resist the urge to conclude they are wasting office time. The more creative ideas they absorb, the more creative they can be for you.

6. Use proper communication tools.

A central intranet or online project management application helps define priorities and give you a clear view of what everyone is working on. Sharepoint has a good central management/project delegation system.

Break the habit of distributing tasks via email. Email is hard to interpret and difficult to keep track of over time.

Have tough discussions about a person's productivity in person whenever possible, or by phone if the s/he works remotely.

With the rise of "virtual teams" in the interactive world, working well together is crucial to the success or failure of an execution. Look forward to more MarketingVOX How-Tos that help traffic the intersections of marketing, product management, development and design.

Image credit: FrenkieB.

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